Recipe: Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil

Recipe: Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

I learned this treatment for pasta from an old neighbor of mine who took his cooking very seriously and made even the simplest meal seem like a dinner party. Music gets changed, cocktails are poured, stories told; there's a lot of gesticulating.

But really, all there is to this dish is boiling the pasta, tossing the sauce ingredients into a big bowl, and then tossing in the drained pasta. It's a stress-free party dish, or even just your dinner tonight.

This pasta can be pulled together in as long as it takes the pasta to cook; between 9 and 13 minutes, depending on the shape you use. Because it is so simple and the uncooked sauce has so few ingredients, using the best-quality ingredients you can find makes a difference — especially when it comes to the ricotta. If you can avoid the skim-milk and commercially made versions, do. If you have time, you can even make your own.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

The pasta shapes that best complement this sauce are small-shaped pieces, like rotini, penne, fusilli, and gemelli; these shapes hold the sauce. Again, quality makes a big difference here. Now's the time to spring for something better than plain-wrap spaghetti. However, if it's all you have, you'll still be eating well.

Tester's Notes

I am on board for anything that involves ricotta, so I was thrilled to finally give this recipe a try. It's as simple as you'd think it is, and that's what makes it so special. I was able to assemble everything in under 15 minutes, and yet sitting down to a bowl of this pasta still felt special and a bit fancy.

Based on previous comments, I did lower the amount of ricotta cheese so that the pasta wasn't swimming in sauce, and I decreased the amount of olive oil to just a finishing drizzle, as the dish is plenty luxe and rich without the original couple of tablespoons.

It's worth it to use good-quality ricotta here, so try to seek out the best you can find. I also used Pecorino Romano cheese instead of Parmesan, which is a bit saltier and nuttier, and it gave the pasta a bit more dimension (although if all you have is Parmesan, this dish will still be great).

Finally, I couldn't resist adding a pinch of red pepper flakes for a little heat to cut through the creaminess, but of course I left it optional, if you're not up for spice.

- Sheela, May 2018

Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil

Serves 6

  • 1 pound

    dried short pasta, such as gemelli, fusilli, penne, or rotini

  • 1 1/2 cups

    ricotta cheese, preferably freshly made

  • 1 cup

    finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

  • Juice of 1 large lemon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 cup

    loosely packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

  • Good-quality olive oil, for serving

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

Place the ricotta, Pecorino or Parmesan, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper in a large heatproof bowl and stir to combine. When there are about 2 minutes remaining in the pasta's cooking time, place the bowl over the pot and slowly stir the ricotta mixture. You should see it loosening as it warms.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it well. Add it to the bowl of ricotta and mix well to evenly coat the pasta in the sauce. Add the basil and red pepper flakes, if using, toss, and serve immediately. Drizzle olive oil over each serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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